In the 1960s and ’70s, Admiral H.G. Rickover, father of America’s nuclear navy, personally interviewed all candidate submariners, from cook to commanding officer. Each candidate had to internalize atomic engineering and navy protocol. But Rickover was searching for something intangible, an edge, a willingness to exercise independence in an otherwise hierarchical structure. Rickover gauged judgment by sitting a candidate on an unstable armchair, remaining silent for several minutes, and then asking, “So, what was the last book you read?”
As Rickover goes, so goes the Herald Editorial Board (minus the unstable armchair.) The board is in the process of interviewing political candidates and weighing ballot measures, and we’re angling for questions that tease out an individual’s value system as well as her or his political priorities. (As Heraclitus wrote, “character is destiny.” If only there was a method of measuring character in a one-hour interview.)
In the coming weeks, the board will conduct interviews for Washington’s federal offices, the U.S. Senate and U.S House of Representatives. We are cliché-averse, and we will fiercely challenge all canned, poll-tested rhetoric (In our passive-aggressive, Rickover-esque manner, this will be expressed with a quiet, “Great. Now, could you please put that in your own words?”) We also recognize the disconnect between campaigns and public service. The former telegraphs an individual’s self-marketing savvy; the latter is unglamorous, labor-intensive, and yet a citizen’s highest calling.
Herald readers convey their disagreements in letters to the editor, but now there’s an opportunity to address questions directly to federal lawmakers (or lawmaker wannabees.) The Herald would like to know what you would ask Rep. Rick Larsen and his opponent, Dan Matthews; Sen. Maria Cantwell and her opponent, state Sen. Michael Baumgartner, and; Snohomish County Councilmember John Koster and businesswoman Suzan DelBene (both running to represent Washington’s newly drawn 1st Congressional District.)
Writer Ron Brownstein, who recently visited the Northwest to speak at a luncheon for the UW’s Ruckelshaus Center, wrote in his book, “The Second Civil War,” that, “because each party seeks to impose its will on the other — and recoils from actions that might challenge its core supporters — it can not propose comprehensive solutions. We are left with either-or alternatives — increase production or reduce consumption, cut benefits or raise taxes — when the challenges demand that we apply solutions built on the principle of both-and.”
A nephew fighting in Afghanistan? We need to find a sensible end to America’s longest war. An underwater mortgage in Everett? That may be out of the federal orbit, but we can always ask. Please send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and use the subject, “Questioning authority.” Be heard.